Christmas is a time of traditions, a time for family rituals and bonding over shared experiences. One of my family’s enduring traditions centers around the Christmas tree.
When I was young my brother and I would usually go with my dad to choose a tree. We were more spectators because my father, being a perfectionist and loving Christmas, knew exactly the kind of tree to choose. It was always gorgeous.
After getting it in its stand, he would spend a day putting on lights, and then the next day my brother and I would decorate while my dad and mom laughed and sipped Scotch. I was at least a teenager before I realized that the decorations would be rearranged as we slept so that the tree looked perfect. Everyone got what they wanted – we could decorate any way we wanted, Dad would make it completely perfect, and my mother happily didn’t have to do anything but admire it.
My father’s Christmas tree never fell down.
Fast forward. I’m all grown up and married to a man as happily haphazard as I am. Three girls later, we begin our own traditions. First of all, by coincidence and then by design (because it was hilarious) we always chose our tree in the dark, often with a fine northwest drizzle to make it worthwhile. Despite the big lights set up by the sellers, we could never quite see what we were buying. You wouldn’t believe how cock-eyed some tree trunks are.
The girls would dash around screeching about which tree they wanted. Always different ones. According to Laurel and Karen, Heather always started to cry because she insisted we never let her pick. And so we’d let her pick. Then Karen and Laurel would get mad and they’d stomp their feet or yell or cry depending on age or disposition. Somehow, a tree would be chosen, tied to the roof and we’d all celebrate with hot chocolate.
Next came the setting up of the tree. As I mentioned, my husband and I were a bit haphazard. And the tree was crooked. Always. Then came the exercise of determination over physics. How many times would the tree fall over? And could we get it decorated before it fell over? One year, we literally tied the tree to the wall to keep it vertical. Only in our house did a Christmas tree have to be held captive.
Our decorations were chaotic, homemade, and beautiful. Even when lying on the ground because the tree fell over again.
Fast forward. Girls are all grown up and a couple of sons-in-law and grandsons enter the mix. The men are somewhat bemused at our tree rituals, but they were initially willing to pick one out in the dark and rain; the arguments between the girls remained but had the laughter of happy ritual. Heather, as per usual, got her way for the biggest tree on the lot. My feeble protests that it was too big got lost in the excitement.
I still have a scrape mark on the ceiling of my living room from the “boys” putting up the tree before they conceded that short of cutting a hole, the tree had to have many inches cut off the bottom.
For a few years, one of the sons-in-law took my daughter out to a tree farm to cut their own – a ritual from his childhood.
Tomorrow, the grandsons arrive. Heather begged me to hold off getting a tree until they could get here, and everyone is okay with that. After all, Christmas is about family and kids. The tree lots will be picked over, the boys will argue over which tree is the best, one will be chosen (probably at Heather’s suggestion) and the guys will put the tree up.
I don’t know if it will fall over and the ornaments will crash to the floor. My grandsons will decorate with much encouragement from the adults as we sip Scotch. The dogs will bark and there will be no perfection.
But as my mother said every Christmas, “This is the most beautiful tree ever!”
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